Green Wall: What is It and How to Build One?

What Is a Green Wall Learn to Build and Maintain One

If you're living in the city and want a garden, but don't have space, you'll appreciate a "green wall." It's an ingenious idea: A vertical garden that takes up no ground space. Green walls are perfect for an urban pea-patch where there's typically no room for a garden bed.

There's a seven-foot-tall hedge that creates a green wall camouflaging my apartment building's trash and recycling area. As a result, the building has much more curb appeal. And, the evergreens help control odor. Our living wall isn't the kind that can be customized with various plants, however, and you certainly wouldn't be able to bring it inside because it has roots. It's more of a living facade.

The type of green wall or verticle garden we're most excited about is a self-sustaining system. It's framed, with space to hold plants and a mechanism for feeding, watering, and drainage. It may also have a lighting system, depending on where it's set up. Once you know what to look for, you'll notice them everywhere.

What Plants Work the Best?

a very tall green wall
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Moss, succulents, vines, and ferns are all stunning choices for a green wall. Similarly, you can train herbs, strawberries, tomatoes, and a variety of vegetables to grow vertically. Of course, there are the usual considerations with plants such as climate, the amount of sunlight they need, and what kind of food and irrigation system will keep them healthiest. We'll explore specific plant scenarios as we look into the various uses for a green wall.

Functions and Benefits

green wall on a commercial building
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Aesthetics are most likely going to be the first consideration for your living wall. Color, texture, size, and fragrance all play a part in the overall feel of this natural addition. For example, herbs used for aromatherapy are an excellent choice for beautifying the environment. Imagine lavender, rosemary, mint, and rose-scented geraniums for something relaxing. Or, try cinnamon geranium, basil, and thyme for a memory stimulating garden.

The possibilities are endless!

Health

There's scientific evidence that our connection to nature is one of the things that contribute to good health. Plants provide food, oxygen, and are often decoration for special occasions like weddings and funerals.

Hospitals have been incorporating living walls into their interior and exterior design for some time. Now, other companies are seeing the benefits for their employees which include better attendance, reduced fatigue, less stress, enhanced performance, increased output, and improved focus. Not really that surprising when you think about our innate connection to nature.

WELL is another green certification that focuses on people rather than the environment, and includes seven core concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. Installing a green wall will earn a company recognition by WELL, and it means that the company cares about your well-being.

Air Quality

Plants regulate humidity and give off oxygen, hence, adding a green wall to your home will improve air quality. It may even help with dust allergies considering a plant's ability to metabolize harmful toxins and remove particles from the environment. You will undoubtedly have to dust less. Besides that, a vertical garden helps to regulate temperature.

Acoustics

Plants soak up noise much the same way that they absorb heat. The dense foliage of a green wall is excellent for this purpose. Outside, green walls are strategically placed to reduce noise from highways and construction, among other things. Inside restaurants, hospitals, and other public spaces, living walls are used to cut down on background chatter and to establish an inviting area in which to relax.

Exteriors of Buildings

Concrete soaks up the heat, but a green wall installed on the outside of a building cools the exterior. Consequently, the surface of a structure with a green wall stays cooler. Another important note here along the line of eco-friendly architecture: Commercial buildings can get a tax credit by installing a green wall. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, is an international building certification system developed to encourage eco-friendly construction.

Sustainability

Green walls on the exterior of buildings reduce heat, as we already know; additionally, they act as a carbon sink soaking up carbon and releasing oxygen. This exchange helps reduce our carbon footprint. Furthermore, in the city, an exterior vertical garden will reduce the urban heat island effect, which is a build-up of heat caused by made-made structures. Concrete takes a long time to release heat, meaning cities are often several degrees warmer than the surrounding area. You can see how using a green wall will save energy by naturally cooling the environment.

Environmental Conservation

Indeed, green walls have many benefits to humans. Likewise, outdoor vertical gardens provide a natural habitat for butterflies, pollinators, and songbirds. What a lovely home for city-dwelling creatures!

Edible Green Walls

Edible Green Walls website
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Grow Edible Walls is a company that offers all kinds of options for growing a green wall that's more of a vertical farm. They offer pre-planted living walls as well as green wall systems.

Edible green walls are seasonal, and there are tons of options for the type of food that you can grow. Lettuces and leafy greens, like spinach, sorrel, endive, and cabbage all thrive in this kind of garden. Cucumbers, bell peppers, and blueberries do well too.

Cost

The cost to construct a custom green wall can vary dramatically. There are too many variables to give an accurate estimate; however, they are also incredibly versatile, with options at all price levels. You could build one yourself and save some money if you're a gardener who is handy with tools.

What Types of Systems are Available?

green wall on a commercial building
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Green wall systems have a plastic or metal frame and a backing to hold everything in place. Each manufacturer has their own variation on this theme; however, plants are typically rooted in place first.

Hydroponic

vertical hydroponic system
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Image from Pixabay

Hydroponics are popular due to the high-quality plants that this process produces, in addition to taking up less space. Also, using water negates the need for soil in hydroponic configurations. The downside of this set-up is the learning curve; therefore, many companies will install the systems and after that continue its maintenance. As you can imagine, this can become quite expensive.

Soil

The old standard for gardens is still in use in some green wall systems because soil requires less maintenance and ensures that plants won't die because of mechanical malfunction.

Stone

Loose media systems often incorporate hydro and volcanic stone into the mix. These set-ups use oil, stone, and water to fill containers where the plants will take root.

Indoor Green Wall

Indoor Green Wall
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GrowUp offers a system that is modular and scalable, starting with their smallest set-up that holds 20 plants. This set-up is good for homeowners because it doesn't utilize any complicated hydroponics.

Design

GrowUp's living wall kit comes with a water tank and submersible pump. The system includes an irrigation line, float sensor, pots for planting, a choice of plants, and a grow light. It's backed with weatherproof sheeting and has vertical rails where you attached the pots. This set-up starts with as few as 20 plants, so it's perfect for homeowners.

The company offers a variety of foliage for its wall including a Bird's Nest Fern, a heart-shaped philodendron sometimes referred to as a Creeping Charlie, and an assortment of colorful and textural plants to enhance your home.

Installation

There are several potential configurations for the frame. One way to install the set-up is by connecting the vertical rails to the wall and attaching the waterproof sheet. Conversely, horizontal boards may be mounted onto the wall first, then attaching the railing to the boards. Or, the whole thing can be mounted on a free-standing frame.

You'll find details in the "How it Works" document on GrowUp's website.

Maintenance

We like this one for personal use because it is easy to maintain once installed. When it's time to clean, you empty the tanks with a wet vacuum cleaner, wipe everything out to make sure it's clean, then refill the tanks. Pretty simple. You can find the complete installation and maintenance guide here.


Outdoor

outdoor green wall
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Ambius is a landscaping company that specializes in outdoor installations of living walls. They offer a variety of systems, including a panel system similar to what we've already seen, as well as other outdoor options that utilize hydroponics and require maintenance from skilled professionals.

The Sage vertical garden system is perfect for an outdoor green wall and is used indoors as well.

Design

There are six components to the Sage system: framing, backboard, drainage mat, battens, drip irrigation, and tiles that hold their patented growth medium and also act as drainage strips. These walls are known for their longevity.

Installation

This system will require professional installation, although Ambius does offer several smaller and free-standing options that would be easier to install and maintain on your own.

Maintenance

Ambius offers maintenance, and if you're installing one of the more complex systems, it's probably worth the extra money. However, there is usually a timer that lets you know when the tank needs refilling; some systems require several irrigation zones. If you're using perennials, plants will need to be trimmed and pruned. On the other hand, if you are planting annuals and edibles, this will be an ongoing requirement.

Freestanding

​Freestanding green wall
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Another option in green wall design is a freestanding wall. LiveWall has a nice unit, called LiveScreen, which are shipped pre-assembled. There are five model options for indoor and outdoor, and all are set on casters so you can move them around easily.

The indoor model is a hand-watering system that has a basin and drains from the back. They work splendidly as organic dividers in the office or at a restaurant.

DIY (Do It Yourself)

green wall
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Start small and experiment. There are oodles of possibilities! Why not have some fun with it and determine what kind of green wall you want to make? Buy Living Walls offers frame kits that are mini green walls you can plant on your own.

The chalkboard style frame kit from Bright Green is a fun idea, leaving you room to write out the names of the plants in your garden. The chalkboard-green wall features six pods for planting, an irrigation bracket, and moisture mat. It's all enclosed in a pretty wooden frame that measures a height of 24 inches, a width of 14.5 inches, and a depth from front to back of five inches. The company suggests using this frame to plant succulents, herbs, tropical plants, and sedum.

Final Thoughts

If you want to construct a green wall in or around your home, you have a lot of options from DIY to readymade systems. You can build and maintain the garden yourself, or have it installed. A vertical garden has many benefits for individuals as well as the community. Chiefly, we know it's good for the environment and healthy. A green wall is also a way for us to come together as a community, to feed the hungry, and reduce our carbon footprint. Why not do something good for everyone and give back with a green wall?

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